A feeling of horror kept over AnnaMaria as if someone had doused
her with a bucket of water. She
sat up straight, her eyes opened wide and then squinting to better
comprehend the stranger’s revelation.
“D..Diego? Diego de
l’ Vega?” she questioned half sober.
“No. No, it cannot be possible.
Diego d’l Vega is a tall, ver’ handsome caballero. You mus’
be mistaken, Senor.”
“Sometimes I wish I were anyone but me, Senorita,
but I am always drawn back to exactly who I am,” Diego answered
humorously. At that moment,
the innkeeper returned with two mugs and a container of coffee.
“Ahhhh! That does
smell good, does it not?” he asked the senorita. “Now
perhaps I will wake up just a little and enjoy the entertainment!”
AnnaMaria suddenly felt much more sober and began fussing with her
shawl, and primping her hair so that she didn’t appear so messy to
someone she knew and who once had paid her much attention.
When Diego offered her some coffee, she looked at it suspiciously
before accepting it. It was
extremely hot and she nearly spilled the entire mug as the hot liquid
burnt her tongue and insides. Diego
noticed and nearly laughed, but remembered that one’s discomfort and
pain is not very funny. He
recollected all the innuendoes he had endured in his youth, merely because
he never openly pursued any eligible senorita
for matrimony. Even his late
father had made very insulting comments, until the discovery of his alter
“Are you alright, AnnaMaria?
The coffee did not burn you?” he asked concernedly.
He surely did not want to cause her discomfort or embarrassment.
Regaining her composure, AnnaMaria cleared her throat, sat up a
little straighter, and gathered as much sobriety and memory as possible. “It was just a little warmer than I am used to drinking,
that is all,” she replied. If
the truth be told, it was quite less laden with stronger drink than she
was used to. She decided to
slowly sip the rest. Perhaps
it would have a better and more sobering effect on her to do so, she
Diego decided to try and persuade AnnaMaria away from the noise and
bustle of the tavern. And
also away from the temptation of the wine.
If he could get her out, then they could talk and he would be able
to find out what changed the love of his heart into a wine sodden woman.
It cut deeply within him to see her like this.
Gone was the sparkle in her deep brown eyes. Now they were dimmed. Her
beautiful raven hair was a mess of unkempt and dull locks.
Under her eyes were dark circles that suggested it had been long
since she had slept well. Or that she’d had a hard life since they’d last met.
This woman was a shadow of the beautiful young woman Diego had
known in his youth.
“AnnaMaria! Why don’t we, for old time’s sake, take a walk. It has been a long time since I was here in Monterey. I would like to stretch my legs and see how much has changed. Would you join me?” Diego sincerely hoped she would accept and not prefer to stay where the wine flowed and she might be bothered by unwanted men.
She hung her head slightly, as
if shy or wondering if Diego would be embarrassed to be seen with her.
But finally she looked up at him, as if that Verdugo dignity had
once again taken hold of her, and she smiled meekly at him.
“Diego, I would love to take a walk with you. It has been too long and it is truly good to see you
again.” AnnaMaria spoke as
if a truth had burst forth from her.
Diego gave her a broad smile that the fireplace’s warmth could
not match. He stood, offered her his hand to assist her from her seat,
and helped her with her wrap. As
he helped secure her shawl around her shoulders, his hands stilled on her
arms and they gave each other a warm look of friendship and old
acquaintance. Diego then led
AnnaMaria through the throng of clapping people and out the door.
The air outside was moderately cool.
Just cool enough so that as the two of them took in a deep breath,
they felt refreshed. It was
better than the stale, smoky atmosphere of the tavern.
“Well! Now why
don’t you show me around and tell me what has changed, eh?” he
AnnaMaria laughed lightly. “To
tell you the truth, Diego, there hasn’t been much change in all the
years since I last saw you. The
pueblo is the same. All
that has changed is, perhaps, the shops change owners.
New faces in the old places.”
They began walking as she pointed out some of the smaller shops
where the owners had either died or sold the business to someone.
Some, she said, had done so well that they moved to another, more
profitable pueblo. The walking and
conversation worked its magic on AnnaMaria and she quickly sobered up,
much surprising them both. Finally,
however, they came to a smaller area where there were chairs available to
sit and talk outside. Diego
helped her to her seat and then sat beside her, taking her hand in his
“AnnaMaria, forgive me for asking, but what has caused you such
sadness? The lovely senorita I knew from before…I still see parts of her beside me,
but there is such a great sadness in your eyes that was never there
before. Did something happen
to cause you such unhappiness?” He
didn’t want to mention her frequency to the tavern and her apparent
liking for much wine. “I do
hope it wasn’t another one of Ricardo del Amo’s pranks!” he said to
keep the conversation light and not uncomfortable.
It worked. AnnaMaria laughed heartily. “No! Oh no, Diego, I promise you. I haven’t seen Ricardo since his last prank backfired on him. How long ago that was,” she remarked wistfully, her vision aimed nowhere at the past. “You remember when Zorro….” She stopped suddenly. All the laughter was suddenly gone from her face. She sank back into a quiet, nearly detached person. Her thoughts seemed to be millions of miles away. Or years back.